xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Vice President Kamala Harris talks to Maryland residents on COVID vaccine, stimulus at Black History Month event

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to hundreds of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s County residents Saturday as she joined Rep. Steny Hoyer’s 40th Annual Black History Month Celebration, the first time in its 40 years the event was held online.

Harris represents a litany of firsts: She is the first woman, Black person and Asian-American to serve as vice president, but “not the last,” she said.

Advertisement

The annual gathering, in previous years held as a breakfast for residents of the 4th and 5th congressional districts, has long featured prominent Black Americans, including former President Barack Obama when he was a senator, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the late Rep. John Lewis.

This year’s celebration focused on Black families, many of whom have been disparately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties. Despite accounting for only 17% of people living in Anne Arundel County, Black residents make up a full quarter of deaths from COVID-19. Even still, Black county residents have received just 10% of vaccines distributed thus far.

Advertisement
Advertisement

In Prince George’s County, where Black residents represent a majority of the population, vaccine rollout has been slower than any other Maryland jurisdiction.

Hoyer and Rep. Anthony Brown, who represent parts of both counties, introduced during the last congressional session the Health Enterprise Zone Act, a bill designed to boost assistance for communities experiencing lower access to health care and greater impacts from health conditions.

Hoyer, who signed on as co-sponsor to the bill, said in an interview Friday he and Brown are “trying to get resources into areas where we know there are minority populations, that we know are much more vulnerable, much more challenged and need this kind of intervention that will stop this unacceptable disparity in health outcome.”

The legislation, should it pass, would create tax credits for hiring workers from the zones, create grants for organizations working to reduce health disparities, allow student loan repayment for health care workers providing services in the zones and increase by 10% payments for services to Medicare patients in the zones.

Advertisement

It did not moved past introduction to the U.S. House of Representatives last session, but the congressman plans to reintroduce the same text again this session, said Brown spokesman Christian Unkenholz.

The House did, in the early hours of Saturday morning, pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which Harris touted as essential to helping Black families overcome the devastation the pandemic wrought. Harris, in her remarks, said Americans must be “clear-eyed” about the inequities facing Black Americans in 2021.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the 40th Annual Black History Month virtual celebration, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the 40th Annual Black History Month virtual celebration, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

“So, right now, what are we looking at?” she asked. Harris cited a study showing nearly one-third of Black Americans know someone who was either hospitalized or died from COVID. Black women are being forced out to the workforce in record numbers, Harris said, and Black businesses are closing their doors under the financial pressures of the pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control reported Thursday that American life expectancy has reached a 15-year low and is worse for Black and Latino citizens, who have seen a 2.7- and 1.9-year drop respectively.

The COVID-19 pandemic has “blown up” the defects in American systems for all to see, Harris said, but encouraged focus and resilience despite the challenges ahead. “We must not be overwhelmed,” she said. “We must not despair.”

She called on Black Americans to take inspiration from the “innovators” of generations past, who were able to focus on a future unburdened by the challenges of the day, as well as the history-makers of the present, such as Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County graduate, who completed critical research on the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

“So today, as we remember their stories, we also recognize that we are a part of a longer story and we will determine how our chapter gets written,” Harris said.

The stimulus package puts $20 billion toward coronavirus vaccine distribution, extends and increases unemployment benefits, provides $30 million in rental housing assistance and $1,400 direct payments to individuals making $75,000 or less and couples making $150,000 or less.

The package also includes relief for small businesses, Harris said, and reserves a portion of the funding for Black and minority-owned small business, which have served as “the heartbeat” of Black communities.

“It is the beauty salon, it is the barber shop,” she said. “It is that grocery store, it is that restaurant, that are part of the fabric of communities, that are part of the culture of the community, that hire locally, that mentor the local children...so, those businesses need a fighting chance.”

Harris met with the state’s chamber of commerce as well as municipal leaders, including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, to discuss the stimulus. The package will likely go through significant revisions in the U.S. Senate, where the parliamentarian ruled this week a provision raising the minimum wage does not comply with Senate rules for budget reconciliation.

Harris pledged to get the plan “across the finish line,” likening her work and the work of all Americans taking up fights for social and economic equity to a relay race.

“What matters is how well you run your portion of the race,” she said. “Focus on what’s right in front of you and the rest will follow.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement